Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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May 5

The Advocate on Carnival Corporation’s cancellation of all New Orleans cruises:

It would be easy to see Carnival Corporation’s cancellation of all New Orleans cruises through the summer and feel that we’re being left out, particularly as the cruise line ramps up for what they hope will be a booming business after enough people feel ready to get out of coronavirus pandemic, quarantines and state-imposed stay-at-home orders.

But that would be shortsighted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cruise travel “exacerbates the global spread of COVID-19” and the nation’s public health agency “recommends that travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide,” according to its website.

Carnival has canceled all North American cruises through July 31. In a Monday morning announcement, the company said it plans to sail again, starting Aug. 1, out of Miami, Port Canaveral and Galveston. Only a few days ago the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure announced an investigation into Carnival’s response to the outbreak. The company did not say when it plans to resume sailing from New Orleans, noting that all other cruises have been canceled through August 31.

“We are taking a measured approach, focusing our return to service on a select number of homeports where we have more significant operations that are easily accessible by car for the majority of our guests,” Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said Monday.

The cruise business is big business worldwide, and it’s an important part of our Louisiana economy. Norwegian has notified investors it could go out of business if they cannot pull off a financial survival plan. The company operates in New Orleans like Carnival. Such a development wouldn’t help things.

Port NOLA reported 1.18 million cruise passenger movements in 2018 and that jumped to 1.2 million cruise passengers in 2019, including an increase in cruise vessel calls from 235 calls in 2018 to 251 in 2019. Consider how much each passenger pays to enjoy themselves on a cruise, consider how many out-of-area customers arrive early and stay after cruises in New Orleans, and that adds up to a large chunk of business and quite an economic impact for the Crescent City and the state of Louisiana.

This is yet another example of the delicate balance between handling a significant public health emergency and opening a hard-braked economy in need of opening to save livelihoods as we save lives. Tourism is a vital Louisiana industry and it is taking a large hit because of the coronavirus shutdown.

We encourage New Orleans and Louisiana officials to look at Carnival’s plans now so they can work with Carnival and other cruise leaders — as well as the shore businesses that benefit — to find ways to avoid entire ship exposures to the virus while allowing those who want to venture out on cruise ships to do so, hopefully with great caution.

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May 3

The American Press on workers receiving higher compensations while on unemployment and whether they will return to work:

Some Louisianans receiving more in unemployment compensation than they were making on the job are facing a dilemma that is putting them on a spot. If they refuse to return to work, they may lose that higher compensation.

The extra funds are part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, a rescue package passed by Congress because of the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployed workers are receiving an additional $600 per week on top of the maximum $247 per week they can get from the state.

The Advocate said employers are also caught up in the dilemma. If they report that laid-off employees refuse to return to work, their workers could lose the benefits they desperately need. Employers can also have Paycheck Protection Program loans forgiven if they maintain their pre-coronavirus payrolls over eight weeks, which they can’t do if workers don’t come back.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, told the newspaper, “If you’re (employers) offering a job and they’re not coming back, that’s compromising your entire loan forgiveness. This is a big issue.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, during a town hall meeting by telephone, was asked by an employer what she could do if her restaurant employees refused to come back to work. Cassidy told her he thought she could still have her loan forgiven if she could document the fact employees didn’t return.

Robert Wooley, an assistant secretary for the Louisiana Workforce Commission, said employers are supposed to file a form with his agency identifying jobless employees who decline to return to work. Wooley said in normal times weekly benefits could be cut off, but there are exceptions.

The Workforce Commission is drafting rules, he said, on how to handle the issue. None of this is cut-and-dried, he added. No benefits will be cut off until after Gov. John Bel Edwards lifts his stay-at-home order in place through May 15 because so many companies haven’t returned to business.

Louis Reine, president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, said the spread of COVID-19 hasn’t stopped, so laid-off employees shouldn’t be required to return to work unless their employer can provide a safe work environment.

The $600 added federal unemployment benefit is expected to be available through July, and, depending on the state of the economy at that time, the additional money could be extended past that date.

Congress, in a short period of time, has provided considerable financial help to deal with the pandemic so problems have to be expected. Now, it’s time for Congress to try and plug all the loopholes and settle other confusing issues.

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May 2

The Houma Courier on wearing face masks:

Terrebonne Parish President Gordy Dove’s suggestion last week to mandate all residents wear face masks in buildings where the public can gather sparked lots of debate among officials and residents.

Dove says he hopes to enact such a mandate to coincide with the loosening of restrictions on public gatherings that may result after Gov. John Bel Edwards’ current stay-at-home order expires May 15. In addition, he says the parish will soon have nearly 200,000 masks to distribute free of charge to residents.

The proposal attracted more than 350 comments on The Courier and Daily Comet’s Facebook pages. Pros and cons vary, but Parish Council members and residents who oppose the plan describe it as excessive government intrusion. Some wonder whether wearing the masks will do anything significant to prevent the deadly virus’s spread.

Proponents say it’s a small price to pay to help protect each other from the disease, which is spread mainly through tiny airborne droplets infected people produce when they cough, sneeze or even talk.

Questions remain about whether Dove has the legal authority to enact such a mandate on his own or whether it requires council approval. But lots of legal precedent exists showing government officials have broad -- though not unlimited -- authority to enact public safety measures during major crises or disasters such as the current pandemic.

The bigger question here is what makes wearing a face mask such an onerous request? And why does anyone have to wait for a government mandate to do it?

Some of the confusion may stem from the inconsistent message delivered by public health agencies and the continuing debate over the masks’ effectiveness. Initially, the consensus advice among major public health agencies was that there was not much benefit to be gained by recommending healthy people wear masks. But, after more study, that advice has changed, with the CDC and the state Health Department recommending that people wear masks voluntarily whenever they are in a place where many people gather. Of particular concern is that many people are infected but don’t know it and can spread the virus unwittingly.

“Masks or face coverings should be worn in indoor public spaces and anytime in public when you are near others who are not in your immediate household,” the Louisiana Health Department says. “Wearing a mask is about protecting others. When you wear a mask, you protect others, and when others wear a mask they protect you. It’s just like holding a door open for someone: It’s being kind and courteous. So continue to practice social distancing and MASK UP.”

Millions of people across the entire globe, including many here in Terrebonne and Lafourche, have already made much more difficult sacrifices in an effort to slow the virus enough to prevent it from sickening or killing more people than it already has. Those sacrifices include mass job losses, avoiding public places for all but essential needs and practicing basic hygiene and social distancing measures.

Even if you remain skeptical about the benefits, wearing a mask has little downside, but the best health advice available says it saves lives. Nobody has to wait for a government mandate to do this. As the state Health Department aptly notes, it’s about being kind and courteous, protecting not just ourselves but others as we adjust to a new way of life amid a contagious virus that wants to kill us. Everybody can do this, and everybody should.

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